The latest available Pew research showed that millennials make up over a third of the current workforce in the United States. Considering that data will soon be nearing two years old, it’s safe to say that millennials are currently the largest demographic in the workforce, and growing by the day.
Even the youngest in this group are very much at an age where they’re competent and qualified enough to work as managers.
The real challenge for this radical generation of career misfits is to find ways to be taken seriously when they’re put in a position where they’re leading older people who’ve been working longer than most millennials have been alive.
Here are 3 challenges faced by many young millennials seeking respect by their elders in the workforce:
1. Relating with their older workforce cohorts
Many young millennial managers simply assume they won’t be able to relate to their aging subordinates, many of which have children and grandchildren of all ages. This can lead to a major sense of disconnect as millennial managers go out of their way to avoid socializing in the break room and/or outside of work at company get-togethers.
Young millennial managers may not feel they have much to offer in terms of conversation when they hear these folks talking about their teenage son “Sam” or their grandchild “Suzy”, making it hard to form personal connections.
However, this kind of limited thinking is easy to overcome.
You don’t need to be well schooled in life to take an interest in their interests. Ask how their son’s doing in college, or how their daughter is making out with their recent advancement into parenthood.
Seek advice from this group when it comes to the milestones that may be coming up in your life, such as mortgaging a house, dating advice, marriage tips, and more.
Once you’ve established a relationship beyond the purely professional, you’ll each find it much easier to understand where one other is coming from, which can only help bring your working relationship to even higher levels.
2. Letting their older team members teach them how to be better managers
While growing into a management position, it’s very common to seek training and advice from other managers only. This misbegotten sense of hierarchy can spell trouble when a young millennial manager has generations of experienced workers at their disposal, yet fails to recognize what those people can offer them, other than measurable work results.
There are a lot of work-related lessons that they simply don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. Lessons that your older subordinates have already learned. They’ve likely learned to identify the cracks in your team better than you ever could. Snags like poorly-performing team members or outdated management styles that simply don’t promote a great sense of loyalty from the team.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t know it all. Don’t be a traditional management-type who never asks their charges for advice. Ask questions whenever you have them.
Yes, some may consider you weak in the beginning, but most will respect you for not acting like some snot-nosed arrogant fool who thinks they know it all already. Employees value managers who seek their input and involve them in the decision-making process.
3. Letting their age dictate management style
This can be the most costly mistake of all made by young millennial managers. Recognizing the fact that they’re older and more experienced than you in life can hinder your ability to put a foot down when circumstances call for it.
Many millennial managers find it hard to confront older employees when it comes to poor workplace performance and/or the need for coaching and training in order to make them better at their job.
This kind of thinking is obviously terribly counter-intuitive…
Remember that you are their leader after all. If not you, then who? Don’t allow your age to sway you into leading with a hands-off approach. Someone believed in you enough to put you in this position – or you believed in yourself enough to build your own business.
Don’t hesitate to offer your opinion about their work habits, ideas, and performance metrics. If the age gap feels hard to overcome, talk to your employees and be honest: Tell them you respect that they’ve developed wisdom that you have yet to gain in life; but that when push comes to shove, you have to tell them how it is, like it is.
It’s your job…
They say age is only a number. This statement is partially true when it comes to managing your older employees – at least from the perspective that you are the boss and need to act like it, regardless of your subordinate’s age.
However, you do also need to respect where they’ve been and what they can offer a young whipper-snapper like yourself.
Treat your employees with kindness and respect. But also recognize that a leader must lead in order to be successful in their career.